To Die By Your Side

Latitude Festival Day Two – 18/07/2009

July 24th, 2009

Day two begins the way every Saturday at a festival should. Dry, sunny and with a huge bacon sandwich. Suitably fed and watered, we see the festival site in daylight for the first. Leaving the campsite, we enter into the picturesque woods. Trees decorated with lights and artwork loom above us, shards of daylight slicing through a canopy of green. With 2 small stages amongst the trees and greenery, the woods offers a unique setting for the smaller bands and cabaret acts, doubling up for DJs to keep the music going deep into the night. 

We emerge onto the bank of a river, the main festival site visible on the other side. A lone piano sits randomly along the path, resting briefly between impromptu performances from passers by. Floating on the river is another stage, home for the weekend to a procession of dance, classical and artistic performers. We cross the bridge, entering the site between the Poetry and Literary Stages, slowly taking in the atmosphere. An atmosphere that can only be described as friendly, warm and inviting. This may be th politest festival ever. Undoubtedly the most middle class. There are benches to take the weight off your feet. A clever drinks deposit system to reduce the litter count. Besides which there are bins and recycling points everywhere you look. Talk about a civilised festival. What strikes you is that Latitude seems to be a festival for everyone. Couples mingle with families who mix with teenagers who blend with small children who play amongst your more mature festival goer. Each enjoying their own festival their own way. There’s not a whiff of trouble all weekend. No stories of thefts. No negatives to speak of. With no (visible) corporate influence, what Latitude lacks in money, it more than makes up for with imagination and ideas. From the art scattered around the site to little stages you stumble upon to the painted sheep grazing in a world of their own to the light displays in water to the sheer variety of performers, there’s so much to soak up and indulge every one of your senses in. Starting with Aidan Moffat in the Poetry tent.

Or not, as it turns out. Struck down by swine flu, Aidan has been forced to cancel. We stick around for a bit, half watching a dry Northern poet called Tim Turnbull but soon decide to move on and continue to explore what’s on offer. In the comedy tent we watch three new performers battle to win a prestigious full slot the following day. Back outside we kill time walking to the far end of the site, past a tree with luggae tags tied on bearing people’s lost thoughts, ideas and inner feelings. Past people learning to jive and swing. Past an art bus, past a theatre tent, past the kids play area and into the BBC’s corner to discover, not much. It’s a break between shows and as we learn you needed to have pre-booked a place to see anything anyway. So turning on our heels, we head back in the direction of the Uncut Tent for my girlfriend’s choice of Mika.

Inside a heaving tent Mika puts on a crowd pleasing performance. Mostly acoustic but no less subdued, he’s a ball of energy whipping the crowd up into a frenzy. Opening with ‘Grace Kelly’ nearly tears the tent off it’s pegs, the crowd singing and clapping along furiously. The confines of the tent seem to make this a far more intimate gig than a main stage appearance could ever have been and a series of catchy, singalong pop hits guarantees a happy, satisfied crowd. Surrounded by young children who know the words by heart, girls who scream as though they’re being attacked and pop lovers, I feel like the lone grump who can’t be doing with this sort of thing. There’s no denying that Mika can work a crowd and put in an impressive performance, but as someone who can’t stand his songs or shriek of a voice, it’s wasted on me.

Next we move to the Literary Arena to bag an early place for Vivienne Westwood’s appearance. Unfortunately we’re not the only ones. We get there to find the tent heaving with people trying to get in and no-one planning on leaving. Twenty minutes of slow shuffling and adjusting of body parts and we make it to the very back edge of the tent. Billed as a challenging and thought-provoking manifesto of ‘Active Resistance to Propaganda’, what we actually get is Vivienne, a handful of people in pyjamas and around 50 minutes of obvious statements about art and culture disguised as something far more intelligent than it actually is. Boiling down to little more than ‘art is a mirror of reality’ and ‘you get out what you put in’, the content is highly questionable and mildly insulting. Good points are hidden amongst an unnecessarily convoluted performance art piece in which the history is used to question what art is and what it should be. At least I think that’s what was going on. While her comments on climate change are interesting and important, they seem more like an afterthought to the main point of her appearance. A point that isn’t clear enough and results in a near constant trail of people leaving, resulting in an irritated outburst by Vivienne. The whole thing smacks of an older person raging about the modern world. The equivalent of your dad saying this modern music’s not like it used to be, it seems that Vivienne has become as out of touch as the generation that once she railed against. It’s not so much pointless, as without a point.

A couple of hours pass by meeting up with friends. We hear strains of White Lies blow across the site but don’t return to a stage until Doves. Now a few years ago, Doves seemed like a great live band. An exciting prospect. But here and now, the songs almost blur into one long mid tempo anthem. ‘Pounding’ stands out through the sheer bludgeoning nature of it’s thumping drums but it’s not until set closer ‘The Fear’ that they invoke anything more than mild interest. Having said that, they seem to draw a big crowd with a positive response from most. It just seems to have been mostly obvious and dare I say, a tad boring.

Not something you could say of Grace Jones. With the stage shrouded in darkness, a degree of mystery hangs behind the large black curtain that separates the crowd from whatever is behind it. Most people seem to be there purely to see what Grace Jones live is actually all about. For a star renowned for being slightly bonkers, the only thing anyone is expecting, is the unexpected. The curtain drops revealing Grace lit up in mid air on some kind of elevated stage looking every bit like a devilish ringmaster. She opens with what can only be described as a minimal electro reggae cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’ and its as peculiar as it is good. Her voice deeply dramatic. Delivering every word like a cartoon character from the darkest, strangest dream you’d never want to have. ‘Welcome to my hurricane’ she shouts as the next songs begins. And no sooner have the words left her mouth than the heavens open and an almighty downpour ensues. People leave in droves, some because of the weather, others because of the music. For us it’s the rain, so we head to the shelter of Spiritualized’s headline set in the Uncut Tent.

Now heaving with people seeking cover, the tent is being subjected to a storm of it’s own. A blistering psychedelic garage gospel blast of guitars and drums over which Jason Pierce’s cracked and fragile voice hovers. Every song sounds heavier and more devastating than ever before. Each song hitting you full in the face. Loud, intense and brutal. ‘Think I’m In Love’ and ‘Come Together’ stand out as particular highpoints. The former drawn out from a slow, deliberate start into a whirlwind of forceful drama, the latter full of urgent garage rock menace. By the time they finish, the rain has all but given up, so we head back to the main stage to be greeted by the site of a near naked Grace Jones riding on the shoulders of a security man. A thong covering her modesty, she high fives the front of the crowd to the strains of ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ and possibly straining the back of the man she rides atop. It is without a doubt, one of the surrealist things I’ve ever seen in my life and not wanting to sleep with that image fresh in our heads, we go in search of more alcohol and end the night dancing to cheesy 80s pop songs.

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